CRICKET grounds are among the safest places in war-torn Afghanistan, the media manager for the country's under-19 team said yesterday.
"The Taliban love cricket," said the Australian, who asked not to be identified for safety reasons.
He said more than 100,000 played the game in Afghanistan.
And that, surprisingly, included girls' teams playing other girls at interschool level.
He was speaking as 20 of Afghanistan's best young players prepared on the Sunshine Coast for the under-19 cricket World Cup, to begin in Brisbane next week.
Until then, the team is cloistered, training in Caloundra.
"The Taliban have gone to great lengths to point out that they were the ones to apply for Afghanistan to enter international competition before the US invaded," the manager, who was born in Adelaide and has lived in Kabul for five years, said.
The country is cricket mad.
But is it really safe on the field?
Afsar Zazai laughed.
"I have had a few broken fingers," the 18-year-old said.
He is the team's wicketkeeper, who bats "a bit".
The team's tour coach is former Australian Test fast bowler Geoff Lawson.
Afsar, who is from Kabul and is also the keeper for the Afghanistan senior side, said despite the odd broken finger, there was no time to recover between games.
He said he played four to five matches a week, at different competition levels.
"You just play," he said.
Afsar captains the Shamsheb side, one of several Kabul clubs.
But despite the heavy playing schedule, Afsar said he expected to make a good living from cricket.
"You get good money, and it's, well, playing cricket, isn't it."
And it is a great unifying force in Afghanistan.
A fan on the Afghanistan Cricket Board Facebook page recently summed up cricket's impact in the country: "Cricket is the language of peace and unity in Afghanistan."
The side will play two 50-over warm-up matches at Yandina on Saturday and Sunday against the Sunshine Coast Scorchers.